Boot Camp Users Have Nothing to Fear from Leopard's Delay

- 2007.06.13 - Tip Jar

Last week Apple announced that it was postponing the release of Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard". Previously expected "sometime in the spring", Mac users will have to wait until October.

A sidebar to that story is what effect the delay will have on Boot Camp users.

A bit of background: When Apple first released their Intel-powered Macs, early in 2006, there was a lot of speculation about the ability to boot Windows on them. A contest was announced with a prize of some $14,000 that had been raised online; it was won by a pair of users who had devised a somewhat cumbersome hack that allowed users to install and boot Windows on their Intel Macs - but it destroyed the original Mac OS partition in the process. (See Windows XP on Macintel a Reality).

A few weeks later, Apple released Boot Camp, which accomplished the same thing in a much nicer fashion - non-destructively resizing the Mac's hard drive partition, making it possible to install Windows XP SP2 (only) and choose to boot to either Windows or Mac OS X.

Boot Camp also allowed user to create a Windows driver disc to help the Windows installation work with the hardware on the various Macintel models. By January 2007, there had been over 1.5 million downloads of Boot Camp.

Beta warningApple was clear at the time that Boot Camp was beta software: "preview software licensed for use on a trial basis for a limited time." It was expected that Boot Camp would be officially released along with Leopard.

Over time, Apple has released several updates to Boot Camp; these did a better job of letting Windows work with the Mac keyboard, iSight camera, and other features. The current version, 1.2, also added support for Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system.

That "limited time" mentioned above is set to end on September 30, 2007, according to the Boot Camp License, which states that the license "will terminate automatically without notice from Apple upon the next commercial release of the Apple Software, or September 30, 2007, whichever occurs first." This would have been at least three months after the expected spring release of Leopard.

Now that's no longer the case.

So what's a worst-case scenario for Boot Camp users?

multibootI have a Windows installation in a partition created using Boot Camp. I have no fears that it will stop working on October 1st. Apple spokesperson Lynn Fox told CNN News: "The Windows installation on a user's Mac will continue to work after the Boot Camp license expires."

I fully expect to be able to choose to boot to either OS X or Windows on my iMac, just as I can today, either using the Startup Disk system preference or by holding down the Option key when the startup chime rings.

However, Fox also noted that the Boot Camp Assistant will no longer work when the trial period ends. Boot Camp Assistant is the utility that Apple provides to burn a Windows driver disc and create a partition for the Windows install. If that times-out at the end of the trial period, users will no longer be able to use it to create new Boot Camp Windows installations.

Boot Camp Assistant

Existing Boot Camp users have little need for the Assistant's features--they've already used it. Except for the last Assistant option: 'Restore the startup disc to a single volume' - in other words, to remove their Windows installation.

Just as the Boot Camp Assistant can be used to non-destructively create a partition for a Windows installation while leaving the Mac's operating system and files intact, it can be used to get rid of the Windows partition and restore the Mac partition to its full size. That's a handy ability for users wanting to experiment with booting to Windows but who don't really need to commit to keeping it on their Mac forever.

Remove Book Camp

When the Boot Camp beta's trial period ends, having a Boot Camp Windows partition on your Mac will mean a permanent relationship. You may never choose to boot to Windows, but you're now committed to dedicating that amount of hard drive space to it. Moreover, Fox noted that Apple would not be updating Windows drivers for Boot Camp beta users after the end of the trial period.

At least until Leopard's release.

Apple has discussed Boot Camp as a feature for Leopard, but there's been a lot of speculation about what Apple actually has in mind. Among the theories: The Boot Camp release version could be bundled with Leopard but also made available as a stand-alone (and no longer free) utility for OS X 10.4 users. A July 2006 report predicted a US$30 cost for 10.4 users.

Other speculation claims that Apple is working to add virtualization features to Boot Camp, perhaps letting users opt to either boot directly into Windows (as with the current Boot Camp betas) or run their Boot Camp installation in a virtual session while running the Mac OS (as can be done with both the current Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion Beta).

Prior to Apple's announcement that it was postponing Leopard's release, rumour site DigiTimes predicted the postponement. They claimed that the delay was Boot Camp-related - that it was needed "to allow Apple to make Leopard support Windows Vista through an integrated version of its Boot Camp software." While Boot Camp already supports Vista, the key word here is "integrated" - presumably something like the Parallels/VMware virtualization.

As with most rumours, Apple is not commenting.

Of course, there's also nothing stopping Apple from releasing an updated Boot Camp beta/trial version sometime between now and September 30th and extending the trial period beyond the current deadline.

The bottom line is that current Boot Camp users have nothing to fear from the Leopard delay.

But as the end of the trial period approaches, users might want to think twice before downloading the Boot Camp beta - if they're not sure they want to commit to having Windows on their Mac, when the deadline arrives they may find themselves with no free and easy way to say goodbye. LEM

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Alan Zisman is Mac-using teacher and technology writer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Many of his articles are available on his website, If you find Alan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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